Last week was supposed to be our spring break. In a normal year, it’d be filled with late nights and catch-ups with high school friends, as well as beaches with seniors trying to have one last hurrah. To stop the flood of students heading home and overwhelming local hospitals, it’s been canceled and replaced with… nothing.
To be clear, this is not a piece begging for that week back or complaining that trips to Florida or Mexico had to be canceled. I truly believe that this was the right thing to do given the fact that we’re still in a pandemic that has killed nearly 550,000 people. But, it’s a decision that was made without thinking about the effect that no break would have on students. There’s been no effort by the University to help the students dealing with this new hot-topic issue of “academic burnout.”
Though it’s not a new phenomenon, the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded this problem significantly. With classes fully on Zoom or online or the use of that “flipped classroom” model, it seems like there’s no break from the work. My freshman year, I’d have class at 11:00 a.m. for an hour and a half, do an hour of homework outside of class and be done. If I had an exam, I’d spend a few hours studying, pop in for an hour and be done. I’d have weekends for activities and friends. I’d have a break.
Now, I have week-long exams, filled with long-form essays. I have tests due Saturday at noon, and discussion board posts due Sunday at 8:00 p.m. I have my work at The Mirror, and LSAT classes, plus hundreds of pages of readings and honestly, I’m quite tired.
But, I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need to commute or work remotely because of the pandemic. I feel for my friends that are stuck at home attempting to balance school work and their lives during this unprecedented time.
The pressure students are feeling to perform under nearly ridiculous circumstances is valid, yet I don’t think this is a situation professors or the University fully understand. They believe we’re all just taking our five classes, plugging along just fine with the work. When confronted with the possibility that we’re overwhelmed, they’ll acknowledge it with an “Oh I get it” and then mention something about having good balance. They don’t understand that planning and balance are impossible when you’re constantly teetering on the possibility of getting contact traced or stuck in a situation out of your control.
I just don’t know how to tell the school that it’s hard to care about trying, and the difference between an A- and a B+ when the world has seemed to come to a halt. What will it matter if I graduate with a 3.9 if no one is hiring?
There are some schools out there that are trying. I have friends whose schools are giving them a Monday off here and there or these random “wellness days.” But, Fairfield has given us four days off for Easter and I bet that I’ll still be doing work during that time period.
There are a few things Fairfield could be doing to help. They could institute a pass-fail policy in its entirety. They could stop the narrative that this is an easy way for students to trick the system or stop trying, as it’s not and they stand in a privileged position to state so.
Some teachers understand and are working towards making the situation better. My film professor in Spring of 2020 made the class pass/fail as soon as we were sent home. She stated in an email that she had attended school post 9/11 and knew the stress we were facing.
I have another teacher who has split up the class into three sections and makes the work small but intentional. I’m learning through textbook readings and discussions, but not overwhelmed by the workload.
But, I then also have teachers who have overwhelmed me with work and papers but haven’t found the time to grade work themselves. I’m not faulting them for this, I fully understand the pressure of the time and the stress they’re under with children and classes and the healthcare emergency. Yet, I do see the hypocrisy in allowing them the ability to have all this extension on grading and editing the syllabus midway the semester, but then penalize us five points every day an assignment is past due.
My basic and most general note is a plea to the University to understand that past the glossy masked marketing materials and push for the tented experience, the students need help.